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Musical Settings of Kýrie, eléison

posted Oct 16, 2011, 8:13 AM by Steven Vaughan
The Kýrie usually has a ternary, or three-part musical form (A-B-A), that reflects the symmetrical structure of the text.  The first and third parts (A) are typically identical, while the second part (B) provides a contrast.  And styles have ranged from chant to pop.

There are 226 catalogued Gregorian chants of it, varying from this very simple form to more elaborate patterns.  Because of the text’s brevity, it is often very melismatic, (as opposed to syllabic) where each syllable of text moves between many different notes.  And as the first sung prayer of the Mass Ordinary and the second of the Requiem Mass, numerous composers have set it to music, including Palestrina, Bach, Haydn, Schubert, Beethoven, Fauré, Berlioz, Gounod, Verdi, Stravinsky, Bernstein and Britten.  Famously, Mozart set both the Kýrie, eléison and the Christe, eléison in his Requiem Mass in D minor as double fugues, giving each text two different melodies which are sung and developed simultaneously.

In Medieval times, each phrase was repeated three times, creating a nine-fold form with three groups of invocations, one for each Person of the Blessed Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  While that may still be found today, it’s typically shortened to a six-fold form between a cantor and the congregation in a call and response formula. 

Speaking of cantors, this Monday evening, October 3 at 7:30 p.m. there will be a one-hour workshop for volunteers interested in singing once a month at either the 8:45 or 11:45 Masses.  You can find out what’s involved from both me and other cantors.  And you can attend with no pressure or commitment to start.  Don’t worry about your voice, someone once said to be a good cantor all you have to do is “Love God, love words, love music and love the congregation.”  Now that doesn’t sound too intimidating, does it?
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